Ometepe: volcanic island paradise

Trip Start Nov 06, 2009
Trip End May 28, 2011

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The Landing

Flag of Nicaragua  ,
Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Nicaraguan legend has it that indigenous tribes from the north of the country were told by their prophets about a paradaisical place formed by two hills. They found Ometepe (meaning 'two hills'in the náhuatl language) whilst travelling southwards, and figured it must be the place they were destined to find.

The island is indeed formed by two big hills - the volcanic peaks of 1610 metre high (active) Concepcion and 1394 metre high (dormant) Maderas.

The two volcanoes rise out of lake Nicaragua, forming a 276km2 egg-timer shaped island - the biggest volcanic island inside a fresh water lake in the world.

We took an hour-long ferry ride from San Jorge on the mainland to Moyogalpa, (‘place of mosquitoes’ in náhuatl) Ometepe's main port.

There we hired a scooter and toured around the island, taking in:

- a dip in the Ojo de Agua: a beautiful natural pool nestled in the forest. It's fed by underground  volcanic springs and the water is so crystal clear that the pool looks really shallow, but is actually about two metres deep.

- scenery loaded with banana plantations and other crops - (the volcanic soil is super fertile), grazing cattle and horses (many of which take themselves out for walks along the road), lots of birds (including the blue-tailed urraca - a kind of magpie with bright blue body and punky white quiff) and of course the imposing peaks of Concepcion in the north and Maderas in the south.

- Altagracia: the other main settlement on Ometepe, on the other side of Concepcion. It was originally called 'Astagalpa', meaning ‘house of herons’, but the Spaniards changed it to sound more Spanish. We did see a heron though.

- Charco Verde: a nature reserve with a green lagoon  which is separated from the lake by a very narrow strip of land. There were loads of tadpoles swimming amongst the mangrove roots at the edge of the lagoon, and massess of teeny weeny froglets hopping around - smaller than Risto's fingernail.

The submerged trees rising from the murky waters lend the place a slightly mystical air, and we later discivered that there is a local myth about a guy called Chico Largo ('long guy'), apparently a  very big man who owned the lagoon, and sold his soul to the devil. Also his mum, Mama Bucha, is said to rise from the death every year at Easter, and roams the island searching for pumpkins to carry water in, and makes the place smell like stale cigar smoke.

Unfortunately/fortunately we were a week too early for Easter so missed out on that particular treat.

- Punta Jesús María: a sand bar stretching about a kilometre into the lake from the westernmost end of the island. From there we admired a view across the lake to a graceful windfarm, and watched the sun set and turn the island golden.
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